The University of California system, which includes UC Berkeley and UCLA, is attracting a lot of attention now. The UCs had already dropped the SAT / ACT requirement for the 2021 intake, and they are now eliminating the requirement for five years…

… for students applying from California high schools.

For 2021 and 2022 intakes, the UCs will consider test scores that in-state applicants present, but if applicants have no SAT / ACT scores, they will not be penalized. For 2023 and 2024, as of now they say the scores will not be considered.

In the meantime, the UCs will either create their own test by 2025, or possibly get rid of the standardized testing requirement completely.

Please note that so far, these changes are in effect for in-state applicants, and elimination of this testing requirement is meant to equalize the playing field for American applicants and specifically those in California. Many have argued that the requirements put applicants from minority communities and lower income families in the US at a disadvantage.

So, what does all of this mean for international applicants?

Not much at the moment.

While the initial dropping of the SAT/ACT requirement appeared to be in response to the disruptions to students caused by COVID-19, this new move seems to be focusing on levelling the playing field for applicants in the US. And since SAT and ACT scores will still be considered for 2021 and 2022 at least, international applicants who have strong scores will presumably be at an advantage over international applicants who don’t. It’s simply easier to compare them, and also to see if they are at a similar or higher standard compared to applicants from previous years (in other words, the standard they are accustomed to seeing) on a country by country (or regional) basis.

For international applicants, the lack of an SAT/ACT (or some other standardized test) requirement might result in a less equal playing field, as universities may rely more on well-known feeder schools (often private international schools). After all, standardized test scores presumably help show the academic potential of students from unknown or less well known schools. At least they arguably help admissions committees compare applicants from schools with grade inflation, grade deflation, and varying levels of quality (in terms of resources, teachers, course offerings, etc).

As you stay tuned to the news, do be mindful of two distinctions:

  • (1) will not require versus will not consider

If a school will consider a score even though it is not required, international applicants – for whom competition is broadly speaking much higher – would want to be sure to go beyond minimum requirements

  • (2) in-state/domestic versus international

Testing policies will not necessarily be the same for those in US high schools and those abroad

As of now, we would still encourage international applicants to take the SAT or ACT. At least for the next two years, these scores will be considered by the UCs and other competitive universities. How the UC system will change its process for evaluating international applicants remains to be seen.

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